Perhaps the greatest revelation of the past several weeks is that I’ve probably lived for the past fifteen years of my life with an undiagnosed auto-immune disease.
I struggled with migraines.
I was tired all the time–not just tired, but a deep, overwhelming bone-weariness.
I experienced numbness and tingling throughout my body, and pain that often kept me awake through the night.
My best friend, who lives with my husband and me, had been diagnosed with an auto-immune disorder a number of years ago. Our symptoms often mirrored each other. And my husband battles a debilitating neurological disease that impairs his walking. I saw my role as “the healthy one” in our household, whose job was to be the feet and strength in our home.
“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass…It’s about learning to dance in the rain,” writes Vivian Greene. And I agree. So how does one live with chronic illness? How will I CHOOSE to face my upcoming diagnosis?
1. Let go of regret and blame. My condition has gone undiagnosed and thus, untreated for many years. I refuse to choose blame, and instead, see those years as a gift. My attitude will be key to my health and recovery, but more importantly, it will be integral to my spiritual health.
2. Make friends with my limitations. I must learn that I cannot do it all. And I don’t need to make apologies–to myself or others. I will need to establish new boundaries and regard them as God’s provision and blessing for me.
3. Choose my attitude. This means letting go of jealousy and envy when I see others doing things I cannot do. I must find peace with my illness, which does not define who I am, but is part of my life. I will need to find ways to acknowledge and grieve my pain and understand its role in my life.
4. Use my pain. Pain is my platform to a hurting world. It provides me opportunities to speak into people’s suffering. Pain is an opportunity for me to stretch my arms outward to a suffering world.
5. Find support. Some people just don’t like to look at illness. Others are built to come alongside. Find your tribe, and refuse bitterness when you recognize that many people don’t understand how to offer long-term support or comfort.
How to Help Friends Who Live with Chronic Illness
1. Ask your friend what support looks like to them. I’m an extremely social person, but for the past several weeks, I’ve done very little except lie on my couch and try to work through my pain. I realize that this is a season, and I will shift into another when I receive my diagnosis and treatment plan. For the past few weeks, church family and friends have been feeding my family and meeting other needs. But those needs will shift in the weeks ahead.
2. Commit to a long-term relationship. Chronic illness means a lifetime of complication–often for families with growing children. Typical support comes in the form of meals for a few weeks. I commend churches, like mine, that work to provide support groups, health advisors and parish nurses, health information, educational outreach, and practical assistance with needs for those with chronic illness. If you’re a friend to someone with chronic illness, they will benefit from your loving support for years to help carry out the many details of life that can be a challenge.
3. Offer medical advice sparingly and when asked. Everyone wants to share medical procedures or products that have have helped them. But when everyone chimes in, the effect can be overwhelming. Today, enormous options exist within health care–respect your friend’s choice to pursue a treatment plan that may be different from one you might choose.
4. Offer to minister in your area of strength. Until just recently, I wasn’t considered much of a cook. You didn’t want me delivering a home-cooked meal to your house. But I made a great medical advocate for you at your appointments or to sit with your sick child in the hospital so you could get a break on Christmas morning. What are YOU good at? What can your family offer? A few ideas
- Assistance with housework or home maintenance
- Vehicle maintenance
- Errand-running or grocery shopping
- Scheduled calls or Skypes for shared devotions or Bible study
- Financial assistance
- Help with giving kids birthday parties, getting them to camp, or delivering them to lessons and games
The key is to CONNECT AND CARE. Encourage your church to set up coordinated services through Lotsahelpinghands or another online organizational assistance program.
Have you experienced chronic illness? What does support look like to YOU?